Retired Bishop Expresses Regret to Victims Abused by Clergy

By Nyier Abdou and Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
July 23, 2006

A retired Catholic bishop yesterday criticized the church's handling of sex abuse scandals, saying the church has acted more like a "corporate entity" than it should.

In a speech yesterday morning to some 330 members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, Thomas J. Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, apologized for difficulties victims face reporting abuse.

The three-day national conference at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City concludes this afternoon. Participants also attended separate workshops about tackling legal issues, therapy and lobbying political powers.

"It's become a corporate entity," Gumbleton said of the church.

"I find it hard how any bishop could care more about money than about children," he said. "Even if we became totally poor, that's where the church started -- who cares?"

In January, Gumbleton became the first and only Catholic bishop in America to reveal he was sexually abused by a clergy member.

"I'm honored to stand here not just before you, but with you," Gumbleton told SNAP members. "I am with you as a survivor."

SNAP, founded in 1989, gained heightened attention in 2002 after revelations that many bishops had protected priests who abused minors. It has charged that many bishops treat accusers more like legal obstacles than people who need help.

Gumbleton said victims of abuse who are willing to expose themselves to public scrutiny are a "huge gift to our church and our whole society."

"The church is safer because of you," he said.

When Gumbleton was a teenage student in the seminary, a priest took him to a cottage where he wrestled with him and put his hands in Gumbleton's pants.

"I was so young and so naive, I wasn't even aware it was a crime," Gumbleton said. "I knew it was wrong and I struggled to get away."

Johnny Vega, who won a separate case against the Paterson diocese said it's hard for him to feel sympathy for a bishop.

"I'm sorry that he got abused, but I don't feel sorry for him."

Vega, 42, of Jefferson Township, recalled that when he was an altar boy at St. John's Cathedral in Paterson, he and his friends stayed overnight with the late Rev. Jose Alonzo in the rectory.

Alonzo would play porn videos and pick one boy to sleep with him, Vega said. When Vega told the church's deacon, Carlos Guzman, about the abuse, Guzman attacked and abused Vega as well.

In 2003, Vega founded SNAP Latino, in Totowa, Passaic County. "Some of my friends from St. John's showed up," Vega said. It was the first time they talked about the experiences they shared.

On Friday night, SNAP National Director David Clohessy urged victims to keep pushing for legislation to remove statutes of limitation that prevent many victims from suing dioceses in decades-old abuse cases.

"The next few years are going to be tough," Clohessy said. "Public attention, let's face it, is beginning to wane. Public outrage is ever so slowly on the decline. There are people out there, probably many of them, who are getting tired of hearing about these horrific crimes and about our enduring pain.

"The good news is, I did not say that the hardest times are ahead," Clohessy said. "The hardest part really is behind us. The abuse itself is behind us."


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